BOISE – Post-Memorial Day holiday checklist: Get the kids back to school, recover from the long weekend, pack up the gear – and go vote?
Idaho has held its primary election on the fourth Tuesday in May since 1980, which means that 45 percent of the time, it falls on the day after Memorial Day. This is the last time that’ll happen: Sweeping legislation that passed this year will move future primaries to the third, rather than fourth, Tuesday in May.
“It’s been a problem from the voter’s point of view,” said Kootenai County Clerk Dan English. “They often aren’t in sync with kind of the day of the week being an election day … and it’s certainly been very tough on our election staff and poll workers.”
In a big election year, like 2008, those staffers have to work through the holiday weekend and on Memorial Day itself to be prepared to open the polls the morning after the holiday. But last year, on May 27, just 25.8 percent of Idaho’s registered voters came to the polls, even though key races were up for votes.
The election consolidation legislation, a 98-page bill, passed in the final days of Idaho’s legislative session this year after being debated for years. Backers, including Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, said it should lead to higher voter turnout and less confusion.
The change moves all of Idaho’s elections to four specific dates and puts them all under county clerks. The old system had hundreds of districts holding elections on different dates with different polling places. The change doesn’t take effect until 2011, giving counties and districts time to gear up.
But this year is the last that Idaho will hold elections the day after Memorial Day. That’s because next year there are five Mondays in May – Memorial Day falls on the last Monday, while the Idaho primary election will fall on the fourth Tuesday.
Across Idaho, 60 different elections were tentatively scheduled for this Tuesday, 58 for library districts, most of which are electing trustees; one for a fire district; and one for a cemetery district. But very few of those actually will take place, because those districts cancel elections if only one candidate files.
“There are not very many libraries that have to run an election for their trustees, because generally they don’t have a groundswell of a lot of people who want to volunteer all their time for that,” said Jan Wall, northern field office staffer for the Idaho Commission for Libraries. In North Idaho, she said, there are 22 library districts, but only one – Boundary County – scheduled an election for Tuesday. “They had two candidates for one position,” Wall said.
However, one of them decided not to run, so the Boundary County Library District election is now off. That’s “a big relief,” said district Director Sandy Ashworth. “The day after a closed holiday for any library is usually a very busy, busy time.”
A few other districts around the state will try to bring their voters to the polls on the day after the holiday; one, in Southern Idaho, will attempt to form a new library district.
English said the election consolidation plan will bring big changes to Idaho’s electoral system. “I think it’ll be best for everybody – it’ll be more predictable,” he said.
The move of elections away from the spring Memorial Day holiday is a “nice change” that’s part of the package, English said, adding, “They should’ve done this long ago.”